On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, Mayor’s Star Council Class Six gathered at North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) to continue its exploration of the greatest challenges facing the Dallas Community. The focus on the month was Food Deserts and food insecurity. Here are a few quick facts about food insecurity from the NTFB:

  • 1 in 6 people are considered food insecure and 1 and 4 children are food insecure

  • NTFB currently serves 70 million meals annually, and expects that number to reach 92 million meals served annually by 2025

  • NTFB is able to serve so many meals due to the help of more than 200 partner agencies

  • NFTB has out grown the facility at 4500 S. Cockrell Hill Rd and plans to open a new distribution in Plano, TX in August 2018

In addition to focusing on food deserts, we considered how food insecurity impacts City Council District 3 which is where NTFB is located and encompasses most of southwest Dallas. This particular area of the community as well as southeast Dallas are considered Food Deserts. In fact, the landscape is so barren of grocery stores, City Councilman Casey Thomas who represents District 3, has offered millions of dollars in incentives to encourage major grocery chains to locate stores in the district. Yet, not a single major grocer replied to the Notice of Funds Available. According to Councilman Thomas, there is a perception problem that people in south Dallas can’t afford healthy food. So without proven demand, grocers are hesitant to set up shop in South Dallas.

However, we must not be misled and think food insecurity only affects those in southern Dallas. The North Texas Food Bank serves 13 counties in North Texas. Even families in some of the wealthiest counties, such as Rockwall, Collin, and Denton, struggle to put food on the table. Food insecurity affects many in our community. NTFB has programs that serve children, senior citizens as well as provides disaster relief when necessary. In fact, NTFB has out grown is Cockrell Hill facility and will be opening its new facility in Plano in August of 2018.

In addition to Councilman Thomas, there are many others who are giving their blood, sweat, and tears to replenish the fresh and healthy food options in south Dallas.  For instance, we have on hand Kelly Varga, Professor of Biology at UNT Dallas. She partners with existing, local gardens and farms that need assistance with sustainability. Owen Lynch, Associate Professor at SMU and Executive Director of Get Healthy Dallas. He works with local assets to remove barriers to fresh food. In essence, he removes the necessity for outside funding. His organization was able to create a seedling farm in south Dallas which produces 20,000 plants/ year. Please Montgomery IV, Executive Director of Oak Cliff Veggie Project, focuses on education, cultivation, and preparation. His offers small and free food distribution in Oak Cliff. Tiffany Williams, is an officer with the Dallas Police Department. She has gone above and beyond the call of duty to focus on the mental aspects that hunger causes in children. Her efforts aim to make choosing health meals and exercise a family affair. Many people don’t realize that the State Fair of Texas has a focus on farming, but it does. We were joined by Drew Demler, its Director of Horticulture. He is the head grower of Big Tex Urban Farms which is a mobile farm. The farm is 100% mobile thanks to technology designed by Drew. In just one year, his farm has grown, harvested, and donated more than 5,000 lbs for food. Last, but not least, Valerie Hawthorne, Government Relations Director for NTFB, was on hand to give us an in depth overview of the role government plays in feeding those in need. She gave us 3 key takeaways:

  • Hunger doesn’t discriminate

  • Hunger is complicated – we won’t solve hunger by handing out food to people, it’s a symptom of a larger program

  • Hunger is ridiculous if we consider how much food we through out every year

The big picture gathered from these panelists is that there is a lack of knowledge about farming. The art and skills of farming has been lost throughout generations. However, farming doesn’t have to be a large undertaking. It can be small scale, and personal. The key elements to solve the food desert problem may already exist in the community. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of skilled farmers. More individuals need to be educated and trained on farming. There are full time farming jobs available, but people have misperceptions about what it means to be a farmer.  Yet, the fact remains that farming can pay well above the median annual salary in Dallas and is indeed a STEM career.

Photo: Mayor’s Star Council also participated in creating the Singing Hills Community Garden at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church. The class built beds and planted an assortment of produce.